Careers rarely develop the way we plan them. Our career path often takes many twists and turns, with particular events, choices and people influencing our direction.

We asked Maria O'Neill from STEPS to give some advice for people considering this job:


Maria O'Neill

Civil Engineer


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  Maria O'Neill

If you like working with others, and like problem solving then its definitely worth considering. Do you ever look at a bridge/skyscraper etc. and wonder how they did that? Or better still, are you looking at the way the road at home is laid out and thinking if they had of done something differently it would have been better.

Engineering is not a career people think about and say its helping people, but in many ways it is rewarding and just as much about helping people. Engineers design things used everyday that help people get to work, provide clean water, provide sewerage systems, care for the environment....


Realists are usually interested in 'things' - such as buildings, mechanics, equipment, tools, electronics etc. Their primary focus is dealing with these - as in building, fixing, operating or designing them. Involvement in these areas leads to high manual skills, or a fine aptitude for practical design - as found in the various forms of engineering.

Realists like to find practical solutions to problems using tools, technology and skilled work. Realists usually prefer to be active in their work environment, often do most of their work alone, and enjoy taking decisive action with a minimum amount of discussion and paperwork.
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Jenny Hanafin: Earth Observation and Modelling Manager

Jenny Hanafin talks to Smart Futures about her job as Earth Observation and Modelling Manager at TechWorks Marine.

What were the main ‘career decision’ milestones in your life so far?

I wanted to study marine science as soon as I could. Then deciding to move to the US to do my PhD, where I had an amazing time was another milestone. I then moved from research to a commercial job, based on my research experience.

Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?

My PhD advisor and various colleagues over the years have been the biggest influencers on career to date.

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

Yes! My salary is pretty good, I have opportunities to travel, and even though it’s a private company there are opportunities to keep up with research.

How did you go about getting your current job?

It’s a very specialised field and I knew this company was expanding into the field so I approached them initially at a conference and then followed up when I was ready.

Describe a typical day?

I spend most of my day on my computer, analysing data, writing reports and keeping up to date with my projects. There are regular progress meetings with my team and my boss as well. Occasionally I go to meetings or conferences in Ireland or abroad.

What are the main tasks and responsibilities?

I manage projects, so keeping people and work on track for deadlines is important. I also spend time looking for new business or funding opportunities and I then write proposals for these grants.

What are the main challenges?

Planning! Research is very different to business. When you start researching a topic, you know it could lead you anywhere and even though you have an idea of how long it will take, you need to plan in case it takes longer than expected. In business you need to have a much better handle of timelines and workloads in order to plan.

What aspects of the job do you enjoy?

I love what I do! I have a great interest in what I am doing and this makes work very enjoyable.

What are the challenges facing your profession?

I would have preferred to stay in research or academia, but those jobs are pretty scarce.

What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?

The main skills I bring are a mix of good technical skills, a wide range of experience and the ability to work with others.

What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?

For my Leaving Cert I took all three science subjects physics, chemistry, biology as well as higher maths.

What is your education to date?

I have a bachelor of science in Marine Science from NUI Galway and a PhD in Meteorology and Physical Oceanography from the University of Miami. Both of these degrees have been very important in my career to date.

What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?

During my PhD I had lots of opportunities to travel, to meet new people and to find the topic I wanted to follow for my career.

Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?

I have taken many training courses in writing scientific papers, public speaking and managing teams. I’m always open to learn a better ways of doing things.

What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?

Getting my proposals funded has been the most rewarding thing to happen in my career to date.

What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?

The personal qualities that help the most in my career are focus, determination and self-motivation.

What is your dream job?

Jacques Cousteau’s job would be my dream job!

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

A PhD is more than a qualification, who you choose as an advisor and where you choose to do it is very important, as your experience depends a great deal on them. I spent a lot of time researching universities, research groups and potential advisors before deciding and it really paid off. Once you are on your way, just keep networking! It’s as important in science as any other career.

What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?

Being able to learn and keep on learning, being able to work alone as well as in a team and not being afraid to take on something new.

What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?

Scientific data analysis and placement at environmental companies would both provide good experience for this type of position.

Article by: Smart Futures